History in the Mail

Keeping a family history always seemed like an overwhelming chore to me. With limited time and funds, I wondered how to gather information from relatives across the country. The more I thought about what I should be doing, the more discouraged I became.

Then one day after I had finished reading a letter from my sister in Massachusetts, I went to file it in my letter box. As I did so I realized that I had a wealth of family history collected in that box. And better yet, each letter was a firsthand account! Many of the family’s big events were recorded in those letters—the birth of my cousin’s baby girl, my dad’s call to the bishopric, plans for my wedding, and more.

The letters obviously don’t make a complete family history, but they are a good starting point. The best thing about them is that they’re full of life. They show personality and emotions that may not be obvious in traditional family histories. Better than recording that my parents love the outdoors is the letter they sent written on tree bark they found during a hike. Better than my writing that the family missed me when I left for college are letters and greeting cards in which they say it.

In order to make the letters more accessible to future generations, I slipped each unfolded letter into a clear plastic page and then into a binder. I also wrote the full name of and my relationship to the writer at the top of every letter. I have also learned to keep copies of letters I write. Many times these accounts are more lively than the personal history I keep in my journal because I’ve tried to make them exciting for the reader.

Now when I write or receive a letter I add it to my binder hoping that someday my great-great-grandchildren will read this collection with curiosity and delight.Emily Maitland Gilliland, Redding, California

[photo] Photography by Jed Clark

The JST at My Fingertips

When the LDS Edition of the King James Version of the Bible was published in 1979, I was fascinated to find the bottom of each page of scripture filled with footnotes. Especially exciting to me were the footnote entries of the Joseph Smith Translation (JST).

Then came the day when a teacher mentioned a JST footnote on a scripture we were discussing. I hadn’t noticed it. How many others had I missed? I looked back over our reading assignments and realized there were dozens of JST passages I had overlooked. Not wanting to miss any more, I decided on a method to alert myself to JST textual additions.

Using a colored pencil, I thumbed through each page and marked every JST footnote and corresponding verses throughout the New Testament. It took a bit of time, but soon my New Testament was sprinkled with unmistakable reminders not to overlook the Prophet’s translation at the bottom of the page.

JST entries too lengthy to be included in the footnotes are located in the appendix between the Bible Dictionary and the Gazetteer. Going through the New Testament another time, I found the references to these longer passages and indicated the page in the appendix where they are found.

This process has given me a deeper appreciation of Joseph Smith’s calling as “a seer, a translator, a prophet” (D&C 21:1).Sandra Lee Sterns, Jakarta, Indonesia

An Evening with the Grandchildren

One hot summer evening my husband and I were relaxing after a family barbecue. As we talked about the wonderful afternoon we had spent with our children and grandchildren, we realized we both had a deep desire to get to know our grandchildren better. We wanted them to enrich our lives—and we wanted to be a good influence in theirs. We talked with our children, and together we came up with a plan. One night each month we would have all the grandchildren come to our house while their parents went out on a date by themselves. Our children were pleased because the arrangement gave them time to be alone together without their having to hire a baby-sitter. And we were glad to spend the evening with our grandchildren.

At first we wondered how we would keep the grandchildren involved and happy for a whole evening, but over time our evenings evolved into a flexible routine. After opening with prayer, we would have story time. We have found great joy in occasionally helping teach our grandchildren about faith and spirituality using stories from the Book of Mormon and lessons from the family home evening resource book. This reinforces, but does not replace, the gospel instruction that the grandchildren receive from their parents.

Initially, we told the stories, complete with visual aids, but soon we decided everyone needed a turn in the spotlight. Every month we assigned different grandchildren to share stories for the next month’s activity. Sometimes they would illustrate a story and tell it in their own words; other times they would paste summaries on the back of artwork and read as they showed the pictures. And sometimes the children would come prepared with their own original stories to tell.

After story time we have an activity. Over the years, these varied activities have included these family favorites:

  • Game nights in which everyone gets involved in playing board games or putting together puzzles.

  • Service projects such as making greeting cards for the grandchildren’s great-grandmother who lives in a nursing home.

  • Holiday crafts. Our children’s Christmas trees are decorated with several ornaments made during an evening’s activity.

  • Family newspaper projects in which each grandchild writes a poem, draws a picture, or contributes in some other way for each edition. Every child gets a copy of the finished product, and we mail other copies to relatives.

  • Honor night. One year we decided to honor each of the grandchildren with a trophy. On each trophy, a grandchild’s name was engraved along with one good quality he or she had developed. The trophies honored such qualities as “Happy,” “Helpful,” or “Good Reader.”

There seems to be a season for everything, and for us this is the season to enjoy our grandchildren. The greatest benefit of making these special and priceless memories with our grandchildren is the closeness we all feel as a family as we have drawn together and become a bigger part of each other’s lives.Verretta Toland, Pleasanton, California

[illustration] Moroni Hides the Plates in the Hill Cumorah, by Tom Lovell

The Ancestor Game

Several years ago I wanted to plan an activity focusing on family history for our family home evening on Memorial Day. Our children, then ages nine through thirteen, were only vaguely aware of who some of their ancestors were, so I came up with a game that would help us all learn about our ancestors.

I prepared a six-generation pedigree chart on a large piece of butcher paper, filling in only the children’s names and leaving the other spaces blank. Then I made a key to the whole chart so I would know how the completed poster should look.

For each blank space on the chart, I made a separate card listing the ancestor’s full name and information about that person. For example, one card read “Ira Walter Gardner—I was born in 1849 in Sweetwater, Wyoming, while my parents were crossing the Plains.”

As I passed the cards out to the family, I explained the rules: Using the information on the card, each person would deduce where on the chart their cards would go. At each turn they could ask me yes or no questions about their ancestor. As long as they got yes answers, they could continue to ask. If they put their card in the wrong space, or if they got a no answer, their turn was over. The children caught on quickly and soon the chart was complete.

We had a good time with the game, but more important, the children began to see how their ancestry fit together and to develop an appreciation for their forebears.Dorine McDaniel, Pacific, Washington

[illustration] Illustrated by Jerry Harston